Avinash Rajagopal is an inveterate multi-tasker, happiest when juggling lots of things, or considering multiple perspectives. He studied Industrial Design at the National Institute of Design (NID), India, where he also returned to work as a Research Associate for a year. He is fascinated by social history, mythology, religion and culture studies.
It sounds like you explored other professions—namely industrial design—before pursuing your MFA in DCrit. How did you arrive at SVA?
My employers and clients were happy enough with my industrial design work, I suppose, but I felt I hadn't yet found my calling. Design history and criticism had always interested me, and when I spent a year doing research and teaching, I truly enjoyed it. A master's degree was the obvious next step. I came to D-Crit because it has amazing faculty, and it's a very flexible program, allowing me to examine design through many lenses. The fact that SVA generously offered me a scholarship didn't hurt, of course.
How does your Indian heritage inform your approach to design criticism compared to that of your peers? (Or does it at all?)
I feel my Indian heritage is a big part of how I approach design. India is a country with a rich tradition, but it also has several wicked problems. I believe that design in India has always had some kind of national agenda—and I inherited those interests, in socio-economic change, in craft, in sustainability. And of course, I'm constantly using the perspectives I find here to examine Indian design more critically.
As you suggest in [the synopsis of] your talk, technology increasingly makes open-source design a concrete reality. However, one might argue that the democratization of the tools of production doesn't necessarily catalyze innovation, which is arguably a form of capital in itself. To what degree do other (economic) factors play a role in the transition to an "open ecotopia"?
Technology is only one part of the story of open-source design. Successful start-ups like Makerbot Industries or Adafruit Industries have already come out of the open design movement, and I see a natural fit with marketplaces like Etsy.com. But I think we must consider why people might want to take the act of making into their own hands, and my research shows that there are many motivations involved. The desire to innovate, to generate capital (covertly or not), is just one of them. Consider the IKEAhacking phenomenon, where people began to explicitly ignore the instructions that came with IKEA kits. For a while we saw crazy Frankenstein products like speakers made out of salad bowls. But even as the projects became increasingly more practical, the IKEAhackers were talking to each other more, giving tips and critiquing each other's projects. The real key here is this sense of community, online or offline. Once we recognize that, extending these ideas to social change—as Maker Faire Africa is doing—or to sustainability, seems natural. The open design process is inherently evolutionary, and the economic models are still in formation. But it isn't too early to ask how we want to use this idea of open design to extricate us from the unsustainable mess that traditional mass-production has landed us in.
He is a 2009 Henry Wolf scholar and a 2010 Silas H. Rhodes scholar. Rajagopal interned at Metropolis magazine, and was a research assistant on Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color (Chronicle Books, 2011). He writes regularly for the Metropolis POV blog, and his writing has appeared in Change Observer and Metropolis. He also co-founded and edits Little Design Book, a design criticism blog with an Indian voice.
See Avi and his peers—not to mention the likes of Paola Antonelli, Bjarke Ingels and more—at Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference in two days, on Wednesday, May 4th.